Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars | Read: 23 June, 2018
DISCLAIMER: thank you to the publishers, Endeavour Media, for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
As you’re fully aware, I read any and all Brontë-related books that I can find. I don’t care how many times I have to read the same recycled story of their lives, I will continue to read biographies on them. So when Endeavour Media asked me to review Karen Kenyon’s biography, The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses, I almost squealed with excitement. Fast forward a week’s postal waiting, and three hours of intense reading, I’m sat here eagerly writing this review. Despite being published in the year of Emily’s bicentenary, the biography doesn’t solely focus on her. It’s an incredibly brief look into the lives of this literary family.
There was a lot to enjoy about this biography. It was evident that Kenyon put effort into researching the family, and you only have to look at the bibliography to recognise this. Despite it being brief, she gives you an overview of all their lives including Maria and Elizabeth Brontë, Elizabeth Branwell, and Arthur Bell Nicholls. For people who are looking to read more non-fiction books on the family, this is the perfect place to start. It gives you all the necessary detail – the pivotal points of each of their lives – without going overboard. It’s the perfect balance. I wouldn’t, however, recommend this to people who have read a wealth of non-fiction books on them. It won’t provide you with any new information, but a general recap.
Additionally, I liked how Kenyon narrated their lives. It almost seemed like a story. I know this isn’t always ideal – it can oversimplify and fictionalise their reality, but I think it worked quite well in this instance. Kenyon managed to keep it convincing. I especially liked how she narrated Branwell’s life, for example, how the death of William Weightman and Aunt Branwell acted as a catalyst for his alcohol and opium addiction. The vulnerability from these deaths arguably pushed him into the arms of Lydia Robinson – that’s what I got from Kenyon anyway. It was very believable, and very sad to read (arguably, the most distressing account of Branwell’s life I’ve read so far). I particuarly love this quote:
The Reverend Brontë was devastated and refused to be comforted. Branwell has been his pride, his hope. Yet his unrealistic estimates of Branwell’s talents had made his son’s failures all the more painful and humiliating.
However, I did have some issues with this biography. As already stated, this is incredibly brief. It skims over a lot of detail. It provides you with little experiences, and goes into little detail regarding them. I noticed one error, and that was the misnaming of Emily’s pet hawk, Nero (named Hero in this). I hope the editors will correct this before publication, especially considering it’s a biography. Additionally, I didn’t like the oversimplifying of Jane Eyre. Kenyon suggests that it’s ‘a story of a governess in love with her employer’, but anyone who has read it knows it’s a lot more than that. It’s a novel way ahead of its time – questioning the position of women, introducing Freudian concepts before Freud was even born, and the search for one’s identity and sense of self. It is not a love story.
Overall, this was a pretty decent account of the famous Brontë family. It’s a relatively short read (it only took me about three hours to read), and is a great place to start if you’re wanting to research the family. I liked Kenyon’s narration, but I do wish she had added more detail to certain aspects of the biography. Despite this, I would still recommend!
The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses will be available to buy on July 1st, 2018.
Thanks for reading, Lauren X